My now wife and I moved in together when we were both teenagers. I’m from Brooklyn, NY and she’s from Compton, CA and we were living in Lexington, KY because I had gotten myself a scholarship at a small private college. This place was a long way away from the streets and suburbs we grew up in, but we were surprised how inviting everyone was to us. Also, the food…it was so good.
But, we went through severe ups and downs throughout all of those years. Looking back now that I’m in my 30’s, I am baffled that we made it through our 20’s together. Just think about the neurological changes our brains go through since your brain isn’t fully formed until you’re about 28. Think about the decisions you have to make when it comes to careers and trying to make sure your career progress and her career progress sync up.
That did sync up and we ended up in Boston for almost a decade as I pursued my Master’s and now my Doctorate of Psychoanalysis and she pursued her Master’s in HR.
One thing I have to say about Psychoanalysis is that the more I went through my program to become a psychoanalyst, and the longer I was in my own analysis and the more I studied about relationships, love, and perversity, the more pain I was in as I realized what was happening in my own relationship.
I looked at everything that was going wrong, how I was doing things very wrong such as just bottling up my words and not saying what I need to say to her. I was observing her, her unconscious and what she was doing wrong. I saw an inevitable collapse of the relationship coming during my time working towards my doctorate.
When this collapse happened I had been working as a psychotherapist for a few years in my own private practice, at a therapy centre, and for a clinic. This collapse is when she and I separated, it made me face that I was not qualified for a relationship.
That sounds a bit mean, doesn’t it? ‘You don’t qualify for a relationship.’ But, it’s true. As I kept reading and practising as a psychotherapist I realized that very few people qualify for a long-term thriving relationship. Just think about it this way. We need brain surgeons to have every skill and qualification to make sure they don’t kill who they are doing surgery on. We need every lover to have every skill and qualification to make sure they don’t kill who they are loving, which includes themselves.
Every writer writes a reflection of themselves in the words they write and speak. So, these qualifications are a reflection of myself that I saw in others around me. It took me out of my narcissism and showed me that I was part of the human race.
Let’s talk about 2 of the many qualifications that I realized I didn’t have and I saw in very few people.
1. You keep making believe your relationship is safe
I was so guilty of this. I thought that since we were together for so long that we would never break up no matter what. That’s an illusion of safety we will make believe we have and perpetuate in our life and mind. Even unhappy relationships where one or both partners shut down their feelings and do everything to ‘keep the peace’ will divorce by year 16 compared to those who fight it out and divorce by year 5.6 (Gottman & Silver, 2015, p. 50). We know for a fact this doesn’t work or last so don’t stay together for the kids.
The irony of making believe your relationship is safe is that this makes your relationship the most volatile psychically and emotionally. And where this volatility lives, no true safety lives.
This is how this mentality of safety worked in me before ‘the collapse’, even though I was well trained as a psychotherapist to see all of this. I thought I had all the time in the universe to figure out how ‘to fix’ my relationship so I unconsciously and consciously perpetuated this illusion of safety. We didn’t fight or yell at each other, we didn’t have sex and we were nice enough to each other like good roommates.
The problem with this way of being that I didn’t want to see then and see now is that safety kills desire and when you don’t have the ability to desire and tolerate risk, there is no ability to be satisfied in a relationship.
Does your relationship lack sex? Yea, sex is risky, it’s vulnerable and when you both unconsciously decide that there will be no more risk, desire, and passion, the sex dies off which really means the friendship, all the feelings, chemicals, and fantasies that promote a satisfactory relationship are pushed away, broken and ignored. When you perpetuate the illusion of safety, you both agree to destroy your relationship.
When the collapse happened and my wife and I suddenly separated, I had no choice but to see that my relationship wasn’t safe. What did this really mean? It meant that I wasn’t safe emotionally with her. I had messed up by putting too much of my emotional stability, let’s be honest…all of my emotional stability, on her and the fake safety of the relationship.
I remember it was cold that Boston winter as I sat outside with a coffee in my hand before I was to start my day and I finally gained this one skill that was a piece of me qualifying for a relationship. I realized that no matter what, there was no safe relationship. Why does this matter? This brought me to the next idea I functioned under that disqualified me for a long-lasting relationship. Since day one with my wife I had seen her for who I wished she was and not for who she was.
2. You see your lover for who you wish they are, not who they are
Freud really got to me on this one. I was in my own analysis with my analyst after the collapse of my relationship and I felt ill when I thought this phrase and had a hard time saying it out loud to my analyst and myself.
To only see your partner as who you wish they are and not for who they are is a great way of resisting ever knowing who they actually are which means that when they do inevitably fail or break your heart you can make believe you are free of responsibility and say, “I had no idea they were capable of doing that”.
I was guilty of this. I could have known what my wife was capable of. I most likely did know, but it’s more valuable and easier to be a victim than to do the work to make a relationship work. This let me know that I was not interested enough in investing in being responsible for myself or my part of the relationship.
This broke my narcissism. I’m not talking about the pop-psychology misguided idea of narcissism where it’s thought that narcissist love themselves and are selfish. I’m talking about actual narcissism that comes from the story of Narcissus. He fell in love with his own image in short and this is what I did with my wife.
I fell in love with my own image within her. I saw her for who I wanted her to be (like me) and not who she actually was. So, right before the collapse, I was sitting there reading everything I could get my hands on about relationships believing she was just like me and would sit there forever until things could be figured out and fixed.
We do this all the time in our relationships. I can’t tell you how many times couples and individuals have come into my office to tell me their sex lives are boring and when I ask, “Have they ever been asked if they would do x,y,z,” I always hear from them,
Client: “OH! They would NEVER do that!”
Me: “How’s that known?”
Client: “I just know. We’ve been together for so long and they never have done any of that with me.”
Me: “What’s the problem in asking?”
Client: “Because I know the answer I will get.”
Me: “Sounds like it’s safer to be sure without asking her than taking a risk and finding out.”
Client: “Are you calling my wife a whore!? Only whores do that! Not the mother of my children!”
This client had to see his wife as an angel as he called her and a mother. She could not have sexual desire or be dirty in any way. He had to see her for what he wanted to see her for and not risk finding out who she really was.
There are a lot more ways we and I disqualify ourselves from having a long-term satisfactory relationship. We believe the myth that being rational in a relationship will make it happy or that you should not be a narcissist to be in a satisfactory relationship. These are all myths we have been fed that destroy relationship after relationship.
Therapists won’t tell you any of this. I’ll be honest with you and tell you that the vast majority of therapist won’t tell you this because they don’t know any of this. They’ll just keep telling you that you have to communicate better. That’s advice that we know doesn’t work.
And this is how I discovered I didn’t qualify for a thriving relationship while also discovering how I could co-create a thriving relationship.
Now, in my marriage with my wife, I understand that I don’t have a safe or guaranteed relationship and live and act as if I am are responsible for myself and my relationship. This means that I always try to learn to be aware when I’m treating her as a reflection of myself again instead of really being curious and cherishing who she actually is. When we see who our spouses actually are, we realize they aren’t as boring as we make them out to be. But, we then come to the core issue. If we see others for who they actually are we start to see ourselves for who we actually are and we rather not so we go back to living in delusions.
Mr Ayala is a Psychoanalytical Relationship Specialist and host of the podcast The Slip who works with individuals and couples over Skype or in his offices to gain freedom in their minds and lives to stop repeating the same patterns that hurt you every day.
Gottman, J. M., & Silver, N. (2015). The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. London: Cassell Illustrated.